Transport Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 9th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 7:15 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, interoperability is very much in the interests of the British rail industry and our whole approach to integrated transport. I understand the noble Earl's concerns, but it is necessary to go beyond the word "technical" because we cannot pick and choose which part of the legislation we implement. We have to transpose the directives in full and it is necessary for regulations to be made which allow all of the standards promulgated under these directives to be given effect in the UK.

The term "technical specification for inter- operability" used to describe the standards being produced under these directives--as it would be as a result of the noble Earl's amendment--is a bit of a misnomer. Although the scope of the high-speed rail interoperability directive is primarily concerned with what everyone would understand as technical matters, the standards thereunder will also include operational matters. The scope of the conventional rail directive is wider still and does include matters such as staffing, operational and telematic aspects, in addition to the technical standards for infrastructure and rolling stock.

As the noble Earl suggested, there are other safety regulations and powers, but they do not necessarily cover the whole spectrum of interoperability standards. It is essential therefore that we legislate for the wider powers. Many of these subjects are outside the scope of existing health and safety at work powers and, to ensure that the implementing regulations can cover all of them and that offences and penalties can be created for non-compliance, we must ensure that the regulation-making powers are not limited to technical matters in the narrow sense envisaged by these amendments.

An additional benefit of the clause as drafted is that it will give further powers to the Secretary of State to make regulations to cover areas of the railway industry where a need for standards has been identified. For example, it is possible that recommendations may arise from the Cullen inquiry that are not covered by existing health and safety at work powers, and we could use these powers to put those recommendations into effect.

The noble Earl is right to say that these are wide powers. They are wide because they are necessary to implement the directives. They also give the additional flexibility that is appropriate in this context. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue his amendment.